International Yeti Gathering Mexico 2023

INT'L Gathering Mexico

2nd Annual Yeti MX Gathering
Freaks, Family, and a Love of Mezcal

Written by Sarah Rawley
Photos by Josh Conroy
I came looking for an adventure. I left with a family—my Yeti Mexico family. And I know I’ll be back to ride, laugh, eat tacos, drink mezcal, and bond over the love of riding the best bikes on the planet.
Sarah Rawley

After a 12-year streak of organizing the Yeti Gathering in Colorado, you could say that turquoise runs in my veins. As soon as the last piece of course tape was cleaned up from the mini-bike race, I would be off to the next site to scheme and dream up the following year’s festivities, starting in no less than 360 days. I always knew the Yeti Gathering was three months away when I would wake up from my annual nightmare: everyone’s arriving at camp, and it hits me—I forgot the beer. I would snap out of it in a cold sweat, relieved. “It’s only a dream.”

Every Gathering has its own flavor. Whether it was the 7th Annual (my very first) nestled next to the Colorado River and infamous Kokopelli trails in Fruita, Colo., one of the many Int’l Gatherings that beckons you to tick off an experience on your life bucket list, to the Gatherings that have paid homage to Yeti’s birthplace in Durango, the common thread is a devotion to riding great bikes. You can show up as a stranger and leave with dozens of new friends. But there is another breed of Gathering that often flies under the radar. 

Since 2008, I have heard about Gatherings that Yeti distributors all around the world have been organizing for their local Yeti freaks—Indonesia, Israel, and New Zealand, to name a few. While considerably smaller in numbers than the 400-plus Yeti owners who flock to Colorado’s highcountry every year, there is an uncanny resemblance to the roots of the Gathering in its infancy—when it was truly a gathering of Yeti’s dozen employees and their families camping on the flanks of Snowmass ski area during the Mountain States Cup. It felt only fitting to come full circle and retrace my steps to its humble beginnings. With an incredibly busy summer behind me, nothing felt more right than my own fifteenth Gathering to take place in the heart of Mexico, right when bikes were about to be hung up for the winter at home.


Fresh off our delayed flight, we find Shawn Neer sitting in the Starbucks of the bustling MEX terminal. Go figure. According to Shawn, it’s either the creme de lal creme or bottom-of-the-barrel coffee. There’s no middle ground. As soon as we roll up, Lou jumps up out of his chair, gives fellow Yeti Ambassador Nate Hills a Gordo-sized hug, and is ready to grab our bike bags and hit the road. We quickly learn that driving anywhere in the sixth-largest metropolitan area in the world, you don’t get anywhere fast.

I don’t know it at this time, but Lou Carlos Herrera is one of the four kingpins of Yeti culture in Mexico. He is the owner of Bike Den, a dealer in Puebla, Mexico (which, for the record, is the best place to live in Mexico… according to Lou). After a lesson in driving through the city, we arrive at Bcollective located in the modern Santa Fe district, another Yeti dealer owned by Alberto Lucca, to build up our bikes before heading out for the first batch of dozens of tacos that would be consumed that week. 

The after-hours shop energy is absolutely buzzing—mariachi music’s playing, Sebastian Ochoa, the suspension maestro of Mexico, is servicing forks before the big weekend, and upon walking in, Alberto (or as everyone endearingly calls him—Sappo) pours mezcal into whatever vessel is within arm’s reach. A grande ¡Salud! erupts over the gringos arriving.

JM Lara is capturing it all for the grams, and I relate to the intricacies of his role as the jack-of-all-trades marketing guru for Yeti MX. If there were a masterclass in event planning and hosting, Lara would be your guy.

I finally meet the stealthy architect behind it all—Riccardo Alberto Rios, facilitator of the Yeti MX Gathering, owner of BikeXtore bike shop, and the distributor of Yeti in Mexico. Riccardo has been on the receiving end of a few emails and texts coordinating our travel. Immediately, I feel like everything is taken care of. I began to realize the role I had played for so many years and the magic behind the other side of the event curtain.


Shuttling up to Parque Nacional Desierto de los Leones, I am elated the moment my tires touch the dirt. One of the most distinctive aspects of Mexico City’s topography is its elevation. Situated at 7,350 feet (2,240 meters), it is one of the highest major cities in the world. And when you look all around, mountains dwarf the sinking city’s skyline.

No stranger to this element, I forget about the altitude as we jump straight into the descent chock full of deep chicanes and the occasional step-down. Despite the park’s name, which translates to “Desert of the Lions,” we are engulfed by a diverse and dense forest of pine and oyamel.

We are treated to a few laps on Simón’s favorite trails. As the 2021 Enduro National Champ, Simón Ocaña is revered as one of the fastest guys in Mexico. He is also a sought-after mountain bike instructor who, I come to find out, has coached many of the Yeti riders I am about to meet. His wheel is worth following.

“Local” Shawn and Mr. FollowCamFriday dive straight into the descents behind Simón like they know every corner, drop, and chute that El Muerto delivers. Turns out they do. They attended the inaugural Yeti MX Gathering in December 2022 and were the first to sign up again.

The next day, we are treated to even longer descents on the northwest quadrant of the park. Right when you think you’ve figured out the traction, the skies unleash, and it’s a whole new ballgame navigating slippery roots, rock gardens, and features on the fly. On the second lap, as we pedal up an unrelentingly steep cobblestone road, I look around, wondering if anyone else is as out of breath as I am. At the top, I check my altimeter. 11,864 feet. This can’t be right. There isn’t a treeline in sight! I check again. I am dumbfounded at this topographical anomaly, where I feel like I should be riding amongst the clouds, and here I am under the dense canopy of the forest.


It’s time to say ¡Adiós! to our urban home base and local trails behind Bcollective and head to the Gathering’s base camp, located about two hours west of Mexico City. On the way, we meet up with a group of Gathering attendees in Valle de Bravo for a quick ride that was thoughtfully planned to give us a totally different feel to what will be in store the next few days. Instead of a warm-up for the bonus ride, we hit up the one double-black trail that plunges 2800 feet (853 meters) down to the closest town of Colorines.

Steep, loose, and full of chunk, the first few chutes are a tributary of axle-high ruts down ridgelines. Chris Rayas Ramirez, the newest athlete riding for Yeti MX, is in his element. He started competing in BMX and downhill from a young age and eventually began competing in urban DH and freeride events like Freeride Fiesta. At 22 years old, his unhinged riding style is punctuated by his laughter, which echoes from the top to the bottom of each chute. He gleefully shows me a line that looks doable, but I remind myself of the riding to come.

We didn’t know it at the time, but Yeti’s Apparel Product Manager, Alex Strouthopoulos’ attempt at testing a new fabric within the first 200 meters of the trail, is the first of the official Gringo Crash Count. The trail is raw and unforgiving, and for the handful of riders opting for the A-lines, everyone else is cheering them on with cameras in hand. We all make it out in one piece, albeit with some scrapes and bruises, and are met with the quintessential cold cerveza and snacks at the shuttle pick-up.


Our final destination, BaseCamp Rodavento, is another 45 minutes through winding back roads to what seems to be the middle of nowhere. I learn quickly and begin calling out ¡Topes! (pronounced toe-pay) for every speed bump we encounter. They are sharp surprises if you aren’t paying attention, especially in the dark. Carlos Arrieta, the Peruvian distributor for Yeti, explains speedbumps are called rompe muelles at home or policia acostado (sleeping policeman) in Columbia. Whatever you call it, there is a benefit to keeping a helmet on in the backseat.

We arrive just before dinner, and I have a feeling tomorrow morning will be transformative when our surroundings are lit up by sunrise. The barn emits a welcoming amber, beckoning us inside to a homemade meal crafted by Rodavento chefs. The barn’s construction is modest but clean, with repurposed bike wheels for light fixtures and sheepskins lining every seat. Water flowing from the outdoor taps comes straight from the local springs, and equally, beer, wine, and mezcal flow from the alpino bar. A cozy fire flickers under the oversized mantel, and the excitement of adult summer camp that’s about to commence sinks in. I sit down with Sandro Cusi and Waldemar Franco, partners of this enterprise, to talk about how they dreamt up a forest conservation and sustainable community development project into this off-the-grid mountain bike mecca.


Just like any other Gathering, people line up to check in and pick up their swag bag first thing in the morning. When it’s my turn, I am greeted by massive smiles from the young gents who work in Riccardo’s bike shop, and an armful of swag—jersey, tote bag, shot glass, metal pint glass, t-shirt, and naturally, a bottle of mezcal. But not just any bottle. They reserved a gringo-sized bottle of De Oaxaca Pa’l Mundo mezcal artesanal espadin for me.

With loot in hand, I return to our safari-inspired glamping tent to stash it away and get ready for the day. Normally, I would know exactly what we are getting into, but here, ignorance is bliss. Not because I think it’s going to be a death march, but because it’s such a pleasant change from all of my years of being the event planner to just be along for the ride.

Sandro leads the way as the entire group rolls out together, E-MTBs buzzing quietly amongst the pedal bikes. Here, there are no rules or regulations on what kind of bikes can ride on what trails. Everyone is welcome just as they are—a mountain biker.

After 45 minutes of pedaling up dirt roads and doubletrack, we top out in a convergence of trailheads. We passed a couple of tall, vertical wooden carvings along the way. Sandro is not only the trail boss around here but an encyclopedia of the surrounding area and community. He tells me that the very corridor we are riding up is filled with Monarch Butterflies during their annual migration in the fall. You can tell by the way that Sandro speaks about the land that he has put every ounce of his energy into working with the eijdo, the system of communal land ownership, and the land itself.

“This region is very special. It is one of the most biodiverse in the world, part of the neo-volcanic axis. For me, it's very important for people to understand the way that the locals and community are conserving their way of life and their heritage—which is all woven into the forested landscape.”

Sandro and the ejido have been building for six years. In 2018, Bike Park San Lucas opened with 25 kilometers of trails, starting by adapting walking paths that the community uses for different purposes. Three years ago, they started building mountain bike-specific trails, applying processes they learned from IMBA courses. So far, they have developed about 50 kilometers of trails for mountain biking. 

“The limit is only in our imagination,” Sandro had said by the fire.

At the top, we split into a few groups and dive into a couple of trails—Zapatito Blanco and Mati Flow. Broc Thompson, International Sales Manager at Yeti, is on my wheel as we begin to get a feel for the ground surface at hand. The dark, dank dirt lures you to go a little faster and trust pushing your tires into the berms a little more. It feels good. Or at least I think it does.

Zapatito Blanco spits out onto a road. Feeling playful from the descent, I skid my rear tire tracing an “S” on the ground. No sooner than I had started into the other half of the sinuous wave…

BAM! ¡Gringa down! Plus one on the Gringo Crash Count.

Broc nearly runs over me, and the entire audience both in front and now stacking up behind us, looks stunned and immediately wants to help. “I’m fine, I’m fine,” as I brush the dirt off, acting like I planned that. But the reality is, I was just as surprised as they were. I went from my confidence rocketing, to being on the ground instantaneously after hitting what felt like a patch of ice. While the only thing bruised was my ego, my left forearm was now missing some skin.

Back in the flow, we merge straight into Bici Jueves and Tios for more high-speed trains. With the shuttle trucks in site, we see two sizeable drops, notably the grand finale of the trail. The crowd begins to congregate to see what the young guns may do.

One at a time, they size up the smaller of the two, which is still a considerable 10 feet from takeoff to top of the landing. “Local” Shawn takes one look and, in a few seconds, floats off with no hesitation and all precision—essential when all you’ve got is 135mm of rear travel to soften your touchdown.

As one rider hits the landing, another one lines up. Chris Rayas eyes up the bigger of the two drops and sends a no-hander mid-air. The crowd hollers, and we all roll down in succession to load up for the next round. If you ever wanted to know what it’s like to have an entire bike park for you and your riding buddies, this is it.


Saturday morning, coffee cups brimming with café de olla and plates double-downed in portions, both sopping up the previous night’s libations and prepping for the big ride to come. Sandro had alluded to a big surprise in the first part of the ride.

The stout climb after breakfast is made more challenging by the slippery ground surface. After crashing twice the day before, the second resulting in a contusion, which I knew would reach peak coloration in a few days, I’m still uncertain of where to confidently find grip. It hadn’t been raining and there wasn’t slippery mud. It was almost like nature itself had applied a veneer, transforming the ground into an unpredictable ice skating rink.

The final punch to the top separates the group. Simón plows ahead, effortlessly floating up the glistening rocks. He’s the first to fist-bump my arrival. Sweat pours off every rider who crests the the top of trail, and we all gather for Sandro’s big reveal that I have a hunch is standing right next to us at 10 feet tall, under a black drape.

Sandro, Riccardo, and Waldemar stand up before the crowd, radiating with pride.

“Today is a great day on the bike, celebrating the Yeti Gathering Mexico of 2023. We are very grateful to Yeti for their support of our trail system and hope that many Yeti riders will come and ride here. Today, we officially open our newest trail to Bike Park San Lucas and dedicate this totem to it. You all will be the first to ride El Yeti.”

The iconic sliding Yetiman was meticulously carved into a majestic and towering pine. Sandro shared that they take freshly fallen trees to local artists to concept with sponsors of the bike park. “While not indigenous to Mexican culture, it is still a beautiful way to find art in the forest.”

After dozens of pictures are snapped with El Yeti, it’s time to ride.

With everyone in toe, it’s the biggest party train of the Gathering. You could hear everyone’s elation echoing throughout the forest. Bonafide loam covered the freshly minted trail. It was glorious.

But before we get too comfortable, a steep chute into a righthand berm keeps the spice levels on point, and after a hallway of tabletop jumps with both intermediate and advanced takeoffs, we all end up next to or on top of the grande feature of El Yeti—a natural rock drop with a sizeable gap to a perfectly manicured landing. It is evident that Sandro’s eye for integrating the natural terrain into trail features has only gotten better over the years.

For all three days of riding at the Gathering, the group mentality has been nothing but supportive and fun. If you’re ready to send it, but still a little hesitant, you’ve got a handful of Pro riders to tow you in and a group of cheerleaders to document the glory, even if you’re a little nose-heavy. In a pack of 50, you’ll always find a riding companion who you feel totally in sync with.

While El Yeti feels like the apex of the ride, it is just the appetizer. The trail dumps straight into BaseCamp Rodavento, where we refill water and grab a snack before venturing off for the remainder of the five-course meal. We hit up a few more trails part of Bike Park San Lucas— River Traverse, Va Que Va! (go for it!), and El Mazawai, before linking into a series of local trails and connectors that I could never retrace without following Sandro’s lead. Weaving between small villages, these footpaths are the veins of the local community.

By the time we arrived at the shuttle pick-up behind Barrio 28, a handful of al fresco restaurants, we rode 20 miles (32 kilometers), climbed 1,831 feet (558 meters), and descended 4,460 feet (1,360 meters). Now, that is the kind of ratio we like to see. Tired and content, the troops cheered to an incredible day together and to El Yeti.


“A mountain bike is a life opener. It’s an experience oracle and an instigator. A conduit and giver of growth. Without it you may have never taken that ferry, gone on that adventure, or met that person.”

These very words, inscribed in the Yeti handbook, are exactly what drives me to the next adventure. On the surface, mountain bikes are a way to see the world, ride new terrain, and push your boundaries. But it is truly more than that. It is where people come together, no matter where they are from, and instantly connect over the joy we find when on two wheels. If you travel anywhere in the world, and you come across another mountain biker, specifically a Yeti rider, there is a common bond not just over the bike you ride, but priorities in life. You both know how meaningful a life built around mountain bikes can be while keeping in mind the pursuit is about more than riding. It’s about living.

My first Yeti MX Gathering will not be my last. Like seeing your favorite relatives only at an annual family reunion, you wouldn’t miss it for the world. Plus, we all have a little redemption. Legend has it that Nate Hills was the only gringo who didn’t hit the deck at least once. Shawn says otherwise, but the rest of us, including Alex, Broc, JC and Rocket, all contributed to our whopping 16 counts of gringos on the ground.

For good measure, we took one more lap on El Yeti on the morning of our departure. No less than five minutes after rolling up to the barn, Riccardo and Lara asked my thoughts on where the 3rd Annual Yeti MX Gathering should take place. I told them, “There is a recipe for the Gathering: good riding, good food, good beer and tequila (whether that’s in the form of mezcal or Hoogaritas), a place for people to camp and share meals together. But the secret sauce comes from the people. So wherever you go, it’s the thoughtful planning and details that bring people together and make them feel like they are right where they belong. And you already know how to do that.”

So wherever the next Gathering will be, I can’t wait to see YOU there.

Stay tuned for more details and registration for 3rd Annual Yeti MX Gathering.